4 O'clock to the Parisian Afterlife
We're going to miss the train! Mrs. Hartman screamed at me as we ran. Go faster, go faster, she urged. If we missed this train, not only would we be separated from the rest of our tour group – including the only woman with an international cellphone – but we would be stuck in Barcelona, unable to visit Paris. I had watched Anastasia too many times to deprive myself the experience of singing Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart) atop the Eiffel Tower.
Why didn't you pack lighter? She demanded, tugging along her suitcase. In truth, she had more luggage than all of us combined, but it was divided between her two children already on the train. I gulped down tepid air and wished I could be running with my actual Spanish teacher; Mrs. Morales would have found a way to make running towards public transportation more enjoyable.
My first mistake was agreeing to go on this trip, as we weren't offered school business, which meant that the perfect attendance I had accidentally achieved for my entire high school career was now collapsing faster than my asthmatic lungs.
My second mistake was running after this train. Every adult on the trip was aware of my medical issues; I remembered the sheaf of notes my mother had written, the words neat and crisp in her clear hand. It listed asthmatic triggers and at the top had been “physical exertion.”
The train lurched slightly and with it, so did my heart. Run! Mrs. Hartman urged. If this moment was accompanied by a song, it would be Running in the 90s, if “90s” was the percentage of my damaged lungs. I could feel a wheeze whirling in my lungs, the first sign of an impending asthma attack. You're going to have to leave your luggage behind! She shouted.
What would I wear if I discarded all my belongings to catch that Parisian train? How would I leave the country, with all my documents and medications stashed inside my overnight bag? My fanny pack contained only foreign coins and my inhaler, smacking uncomfortably against my stomach.
Mrs. Hartman slowed her pace to try and grab my suitcase. She tugged on the handle, resulting in her almost stumbling to the ground and twisting my suitcase in the wrong direction. You need to leave it behind! I can't carry it for you! She yelled. A swooping wheeze choked any attempt to talk and I began coughing. I reminded myself to take deep, steady breaths, unless I wanted to pass out on the dirty station floor.
A blink of my eyelids and I was suddenly at the opening of the train. Oxygen reached my brain and I could process the words a passerby had shouted at us earlier: The train isn't leaving yet! I wished that I could thank them for their kindness, but I had no breath to form words. I was trying to board the train, but Mrs. Hartman blocked the opening as she stood there to catch her breath.
First rule of asthma: don't run.
Second rule of asthma: If you must run, do not stop immediately.
I could feel the sweat cooling on my skin and a lightning storm of pain brewing in my lungs. My muscles were weak from exertion, but I managed to lift my suitcase and toss it through the opening, hitting Mrs. Hartman square in the legs. I pulled myself onto the train. I had made it, I thought. I could find one of our rooms and rest. If running with asthma was Hard difficulty, then running with asthma and scoliosis was Nightmare Mode.
My third mistake was forgetting about temperature changes: when an asthmatic runs in hot or even mild temperature air, shifting to a cooler temperature, like, say, an air conditioned train car, can be a bit of a shock to the system.
I gasped, a wheezing, crackling sound known to asthmatics the world over. I dug around in my fanny pack and pulled my inhaler from its depths. I began to shake it, only for the French teacher Mrs. Robinson to take it from me. Fire began to creep from my lungs to my throat. Was she trying to kill me?! I clumsily reached for my inhaler, but she kept it out of reach. I'm going to get it ready. She explained in what I'm certain she thought was a soothing voice.
It irritated me.
She removed the medicine canister from its plastic shell and fear pierced my heart. I did not have a backup inhaler; my mom had taken all my emergency inhalers because they were expired – although I contest they were still good, so if she lost that canister, I was going to die.
I tried to speak, but only coughed. I watched as she shook the canister and then replaced it back into its cradle. It was a weird way to prepare the inhaler, but at that point, I was grateful that I would soon have my medicine.
Mrs. Robinson began to push my inhaler, sending medicine into the air, but not into my lungs. I'm certain I screamed, but I do not recall the words. I'm getting it ready! She shouted at me. I knew then that none of them knew how to use an inhaler, despite my mother's guidance. She had been very clear in her notes on what to do if I had an attack.
I lunged for the inhaler, scraping my nails against her hand and tearing it from her fingers. I heard her shout in pain, but ignored her to shove the inhaler into my mouth. I pressed down on the canister and greedily sucked air into my lungs.
Nothing came out.
I tried again, only for the same thing to occur. The fear in my heart circulated through my blood. Was that the last of the medicine? I prayed it was only clogged. I removed the inhaler from my mouth and shook it at the crowd surrounding me. I think it's run out. Try another one. One of the adults suggested. I looked at each person in turn, hoping they would understand. A light came on for one of my classmates. It's clogged! She yelled. She quickly took my inhaler into the nearby bathroom.
My classmate returned with my inhaler; it was dripping wet, but I knew it would still work. This time, when I pressed down on the canister, bitter medicine swept over my tongue and down my throat. I thanked God in every language I knew as I exhaled. I took another deep breath of the medication and removed my inhaler. Are you gonna be okay? Someone asked. I motioned for them to wait.
I took a deep breath and released it. My breathing was still shaky, but hopefully it would improve. I took another deep breath.
I coughed, wheezing and sputtering as I tried to catch my breath. My lungs were an inferno of pain, suffering suffused into every cell that made up the defective airbags.
I remembered the words of my pulmonologist, reminding me that my inhaler didn't come with a 100% success rate. If I pushed myself too hard, the medicine might not be able to bring me back to normal.
I'm going to die on a train, I thought. I'm going to die on a train before I get to Paris and before I even turn 18.
I tried to breathe again, but each breath felt weaker than the last. I wondered if I would be buried in Barcelona. I was already envisioning a lovely headstone for my grave.
Just keep breathing! Yelled one of the chaperones. I looked at her. What did she think I was trying to do?
I can't deal with this! A girl screamed. Why are freshmen so immature, I wondered. Maybe it was their age.
Some of my classmates ran off to find a doctor on the train, enlisting the French students in their search. Even if they found one, there wouldn't be anything they could do: already the corners of my vision were darkening and sound was slowing down, like a record played at the wrong speed.
No more pretend/you'll be gone/that's the end...
I came back to myself as someone began shaking me. Stay awake! Mrs. Hartman yelled. Arguments broke out around me, plans forming on how to save me from my own body. I considered dying to spite them.
I remembered my sister. I had yet to graduate, and I hated depriving her of an opportunity to dress to the nines. It's funny, what your brain uses to remind you why you should keep living. Plus, I really didn't want to inconvenience my family with the cost of a funeral. My brain chugged as it thought of how to survive.
There was only one way left to reopen my airway: adrenaline.
I could intentionally flood my system with it, but to do so relied on a trait from my father's side of the family: the berserker rage. My father denies being able to do that, but once you listen to his childhood stories, you learn the truth. It only activates when the user's life, or the lives of others, was in mortal peril.
My lungs deciding to pack up early was not an exception, unfortunately.
My surroundings were beginning to blur. I wildly looked around at my classmates. Most looked back at me with a mix of fear and incomprehension. I screamed, hoping it would be enough to trigger the shift. My blood remained as placid as ever, instead of the crackling lightning I associated with the change. I screamed again, causing several of my classmates to take a step back. Calm down! A freshman yelled, reaching out to touch me. I slapped her hand away and screamed again.
This one was weaker.
At that moment, I saw my fellow seniors rush into the train car. I locked eyes with Amar, praying that he would understand. He pushed past the others and came closer. What do you need? He asked quickly. I reached out and punched him. His brows furrowed in confusion. A groan bubbled from my throat. This guy was my only hope to stay alive! I punched him again, harder this time. I screamed weakly. His eyes glowed with understanding.
I grunted as he punched me in the arm. I was growing angrier. Amar, what- A senior said. Get her angry! Amar explained hurriedly. He punched me again and this time, I growled. The rational part of my brain was delighting in its decrease in function not from lack of oxygen, but from rage.
The classmates in my grade quickly caught on, yelling insults at me and encouragements at Amar. I screamed loudly at an insult: a classmate had remembered my pet peeve about pronouncing my name incorrectly. Amar continued punching me, and with a triumphant screech, I returned the favor with a blow to the gut.
I took a deep breath, the cool air whooshing down my esophagus and inflating my lungs. I unleashed a torrent of insults and swears, pointing out each individual's flaws and shortcomings.
As I ran out of facets of their personality to critique, my breathing began to shudder, small gasps making their way between words. A classmate found a new topic for me to speak on. Reverse racism is real! She lied.
Through their efforts and my own curse-laden screaming, I was able to remain angry long enough for my lungs to return to normal. My head swam with half-formed sentences and ideas, but I shakily gave my classmates a thumbs-up to signify I was breathing normally once more.
A doctor appeared, and after listening to my lungs, recommended I get some rest – sitting up, mind you, he said – in one of our rooms. A brief trip to the bathroom later – thanks, adrenaline – and I was resting semi-comfortably on a cushioned bench, wedging myself into the corner.
I kept a firm grip on my fanny pack, as I had already awoken once to one of the teachers attempting to medicate me further with my inhaler, despite the doctor's clear instructions otherwise.
I released a long and heavy sigh. We would soon be on our way to Paris.
Where one never knows what will start...
“Paris...holds the key...” I sang weakly.
I could feel my eyelids growing heavier, my mind slipping back into the comfortable waters of unconsciousness. Stubbornly, I wanted to finish the last lines of the song before passing out.
“To...her...” I mumbled. I weakly raised my shaking hand to mime holding a rose.
“Heart....” I whispered, my hand flopping back onto my leg.
I envisioned the fireworks in the final scene as I fell asleep.
A Brief Visitation to the Isle of Circe
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Who rules this isle, Athena doth know
Her home lies in the center, though;
Hearts of men seized by peerless fear
Remain stout-hearted, lest it show.
One of my men has made it clear
To Circe’s house he shan’t go near
Reminding us of that great ache
When Polyphemus ate those dear.
Winged words; but voice doth quake
To beg me of my senses take
Thus rage into my heart did creep
But that fool’s head did I not break.
Her woods are lovely, dark and deep,
Penelope, faithful I keep,
And years until Ithaca’s sleep,
And in our bed my wife doth weep
Nea Dionysia: Romeo & Juliet's Balcony Scene from Act 2, Scene 2
Observe the pale-fingered touch of Eos, where dwelt the land of the living and Juliet herself likened to the goddess' countenance. Enter the twice-blessed heavens, blessed Eos, and slay godly Selene, whose heart was struck by bolts of grief and envy, with such wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Jealousy fills her heart that one such as yourself is the fairer of the two. Sweet Eos, do not dwell in the house of your master, bending your neck to her will. The finery of a servant is without health and green, worn only by those without the wisdom granted by Athena; remove it!
It is my lady, O, it is my love! If that she knew she was my love (but as it is, she does not)! She speaks, but no words leave the fence of her teeth; what of that? Her eye invites conversation, I will respond in kind. I am too fleet-footed, rushing into such a task; her words are not mine to hear. In the celestial heavens, twinkling in the manner known to stars are two of their number of such a greatness, so desirous of their work, they entreat her to twinkle in those self same orbs till they voyage again.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
That cheek, brighter than sun-bearing Helian Apollo in his golden chariot would fill those stars with the greatest shame, much in the manner rosy-fingered Dawn excels over a mortal's lamp; her eyes in heaven, shining brightly in the star-dusted heavens, would shine so miraculously that the birds of this earth would begin at once to sing, believing the sun had crossed the heavens again.
See the manner in which that blessed hand rests against her dappled cheek! Oh to possess the nature of cloud-gathering Zeus, so that I might change my mortal form into one more suited for this task, such as a glove, and be a thing able to touch that cheek!
She speaks with a clear voice!
O, speak again, queenly goddess, for you are as brightly shining in the domain of Nyx as if Eos stood before her
And just as glorious to behold by the eyes of mortal men who gaze upon her face, hidden by a shimmering veil,
Guided by the gentle winds of Zephyr
O Romeo, Romeo, that you were bestowed such a name!
Deny your esteemed father and reject the name anointed upon you at birth in the presence of twice-blessed Eileithyia
Or, if by some divine reason you cannot, vow to be my love
And the name Capulet shall not be a concern to me
Shall I hear more, or shall my mighty heart move me to speech?
That prized name, raised above all others, is my foe;
You yourself are still he, but not a Montague
What of Montague? It lacks the shape of a head nor foot, nor arm nor face, nor any other part fashioned by the gods to be a man. O, fashion some other name!
What's in a name? Such words belong to the realm of scholars and the gods, for that which we call a rose by some other such word would smell as sweet; much in this way would Romeo, if he were not known to all as Romeo, be possessing of a god-like nature even without such a name. Romeo, relinquish your name, and for your name, which is absent of yourself, take all of me.
Right away, you have hit the truth of the matter and I have turned my mind to it. Call me but love, and I shall be restored as great-hearted Pelops was by the gods.
Henceforth I will never be Romeo
What sort of man are you that, creeping in the night similar in manner to that of a thief, you happen upon my spoken thoughts?
If I must use a name, then I am unable to do so with my meager knowledge. My name, blessed goddess, is hateful to my self, for the reason that it is your enemy.
If I wrote it on some type of parchment, I would destroy it utterly
Many honeyed words have been uttered by your silver tongue, and many more words have my ears heard, and though the number is less than the limbs of the Hecatoncheires, I yet know the sound. Are you not Romeo, and a Montague?
If such a thing displeases you, fair-ankled one, then I am neither
Speak no falsehoods to me now and answer truthfully. How have you come to such a place and why?
The walls of this orchard are as high as sacred Troy, and twice as sturdy. To climb such a thing would be a miraculous feat.
Truly, this place holds esteem with Thanatos for one such as yourself, if one of my family were to come upon you by chance.
By the grace and blessings of Eros did I come here, borrowing the god's great wings to fly as Icarus did, swooping over the walls. For stone cannot withstand the madness of love, and love holds me still in my heart, forcing these actions from me. If Thanatos' soldiers come, I shall greet them warmly.
If they are blessed with cloud-gatherer Zeus' sight, death will be your end
Nay, the true danger lies within your eye, compared to even twenty of their swords! Keep a sweet nature, and I am protected from their hatred.
Nothing upon this earth would allow me to do so if they saw you here.
Chaos' own daughter Nyx conceals me from mortal eyes, like a cloak. And without your love, let myself be discovered here; my life would seek an end by their hate, lest I die slowly, beseeching for your love.
By what guidance have you been led here?
By Eros, that first did stir my heart to inquire;
Wise words he whispered to my mind, and I lent him eyes as recompense.
I confess, I do not have the skill of Odysseus, yet, were you as far as his beloved hometown of Ithaca, I would wander for the same amount of time to return to you
Hopes and fears bead up once more from the papillary glands. I press down with my teeth, scraping hard against the blooming buds. The words are forgotten, an assignment only remembered when the teacher asks you to pass your sheets forward.
Try again, the words say as they ooze up from the gaps between my teeth. Think before you speak, my mind advises.
The words line up like train cars, tone and phrasing guided on rails to a foregone conclusion. "Please, esteemed colleague, could you stifle such language in my presence?" The words say.
Try again. Bite harder.
"I know it wasn't your intent to offend, but if it's not too much trouble, could you not say that around me?"
Press harder. Hold your tongue, as the saying goes. I've held it for so long, it's dripping between my fingers. The words creep from the corners of my closed mouth, sliding down my chin and shattering onto the ground below.
Were I to open my mouth now, I would unleash a flood that would last far longer than forty nights. It would be closer to 10,000.
"Don't misgender me."
"How were we to know?" They will cry.
The waters have been at their ears for some time now. They just never listened.
The Afrodyssey Prologue
Tell me, about a man, oh Muse, a man of many moves who roamed from course in regards to very many things, after he sacked Troy, the holy city: he saw cities of many people and came to know them, many pains he suffered through his soul and life and his comrades.
But even though he longed to save his friends he could not: for they destroyed themselves like fools, who ate down the cattle of Hyperion Helios: and such he took away the day of return from them when he found out what had happened;
Speak also to us, goddess, daughter of Zeus. Then all the others fled such an utter death, they were at home, having gotten clear of war and the sea: and he alone was wanting to return home and to his wife but the sea restrained him and a woman, the queen nymph Calypso, the most shining of the goddesses, longed for him to be her husband.
But when a year came and went, the gods were called upon for the return home, but he could not return even with his friends. All the gods took pity but he was unaided by Poseidon: and he hotly raged against god-like Odysseus just as he was returning home.
Holla at me Muse, of a man who so turnt he dun wrecked the holy city called Troy, who then bounced: he peeped all dem cities of all dose people and came to know them, he took all them Ls in his soul and his life and his homies.
But even tho he wished he could save all his bros, they were a bunch of fools who wrecked themselves, who strolled up into the fields of Helios and completely grubbed on his cows. You know Helios was mad, so he snatched their homecoming from dem when they came to his place from some place or other.
Now c’mon sis, Athena the Wise, daughter of Zeus, spill that tea, hunty! All the rest of them Greeks fled a complete death and they were chilling at home, having said “forget war and forget Poseidon!” Getting fed by they wives and whatnot. Man, you know Odie got up in his feelings about this. He wanted to take himself home and see his wife, but the sea kept him from it. Not to mention poor girl Calypso, that glowing goddess who longed for Odie to be her husband.
A whole year went by, and the gods got together to finally decide to let Odie go home. Well, all of dem ‘cept Poseidon. Poseidon could not stand Odysseus and he was mad for days, and since he is basically the ocean, that meant Odie ain’t going home, natch.